Violent Gang Informant Wins New Trial

row of handcuffed menA federal judge ordered a new trial for a gang informant convicted of lying to agents when he failed to disclose to investigators he had participated in eight murders in Honduras.

Roberto Acosta was convicted in July of lying to federal agents about his role in eight murders linked to his membership in the La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang.  Acosta supplied agents with a wealth of information while on the government payroll between July 2005 and October 2008.  He told agents about guns on the streets of San Francisco, murders that were being planned and other potential gang crimes.  During his tenure as an informant, 40 gang members were arrested in San Francisco.

But U.S. District Charles Breyer said the government muddled its indictment, evidence and closing arguments so that he may have been convicted for something other than the specific charge in the indictment – lying about his role in eight murders.

Acosta, known as “Zorro” and “Little Bad Boy,” never testified during the months-long MS-13 trial of seven that began in March.

Acosta told agents he had engaged in plenty of crime in Honduras, from kidnapping, attempted murder, carrying a homemade gun, robbery, theft and even smuggling grenades.  But the government failed to ask if he ever participated in murder, not until May 2008.

Acosta denied involvement in murder in May 2008 but later that same year, in December, he admitted he passed on orders to kill three bus drivers.

In February 2011, with the MS-13 gang trial approaching, Acosta revealed for the first time that he participated in eight murders in Honduras.

Despite this, the ICE agents continued to use him to listen to undercover audio tapes and identify the speakers.  He was not allowed to work undercover on the street, according to Breyer’s order.

The indictment accuses Acosta with making a single false statement in December 2008, but testimony about his lie in May 2008 “created a risk that Acosta would be convicted on a statement other than the one he made in December 2008,” Breyer wrote.

“That risk was compounded by the government’s closing arguments, which referenced multiple false statements,” he said.

“Because the count has no confidence that the jury convicted Acosta only on the charged December 2008 false statement, Acosta is entitled to a new trial,” he said.

Star Witness

Acosta was going to be the government’s key informant in the trial of the MS-13 seven in March, but he never made it to the witness stand.  Acosta was a key figure in the gang, overseeing distribution of the MS-13 gang’s drug operation in Honduras, according to the government.

As an ICE undercover informant, Acosta was allowed to stay in the U.S., given work authorization, paid by the government and later his family was moved to the U.S. for their own safety.

The gang trial lasted five months and ultimately six of the seven defendants were convicted.

Case:  U.S. v. Acosta, No. CR11-0182CRB

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